Seeing George Clooney's name attached to Our Brand Is Crisis came as a surprise.
"Wait a minute. What's George Clooney doing here?" more than a few reporters working the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival 2015 wondered aloud, double checking their press packets. Sure enough, there was Clooney's name right below the title of the movie—not "starring" George Clooney but "produced by" Clooney, along with producing partner Grant Heslov (the two premiered Argo at TIFF 2012, propelling the film to a Best Picture Oscar).
The lead role in Our Brand Is Crisis, a seasoned political operative, had been initially written with Clooney in mind. Always the savvy producer, he stepped aside and convinced Sandra Bullock to take the lead, resulting in a performance certain to grab her a nomination or two when award season rolls around.
"I was lucky enough to ask [Clooney and Heslov]: 'Are you willing to take a role that you worked on and cherished for a long time and turn that character into a female?'" Bullock told Boise Weekly following the film's world premiere.
Based on a fascinating 2005 documentary film of the same name, Our Brand Is Crisis puts Bullock in the role of "Calamity" Jane Bodine, a political gunslinger hired to manage a Bolivian presidential campaign. Facing Bodine is her political nemesis, Pat Candy (a devilish Billy Bob Thornton), who is also in Bolivia managing the opposition.
Thornton's physical and vocal resemblance to real-world political spinmeister James Carville is not coincidental—Carville's Washington, D.C., consulting firm was knee-deep in the real-life 2002 Bolivian presidential election. Rumor has it Carville was even an adviser on Our Brand is Crisis.
When the film opens to wide release in late October, it will be irresistible to audiences who like a smart comedy filled with political sassiness—think Wag the Dog or Bullworth.
The timing couldn't be better for Oscar and Golden Globe consideration and, of course, to capitalize on the current season of U.S. presidential politics.
"These are interesting times," Clooney told BW. "Quite frankly, we're glad the movie is being released this fall instead of six months from now, when everybody will probably be already exhausted from the election cycle. Politics is... well, it's a very convoluted and interesting game, isn't it?"
Bullock and Clooney knew they had a hit when the packed-to-the-rafters Toronto movie theater roared with laughter and applause. They also knew they had crafted something special: a political comedy featuring one of the best female leading roles in recent memory.
Politics were still on the menu during another red carpet premiere at TIFF a few hours later, this time for Trumbo, featuring the best—bar none—male performance of the year thus far: Bryan Cranston in a powerful, poetic turn as Dalton Trumbo, the most controversial screenwriter in Hollywood history.
Seeing how Hollywood loves to hand out awards to movies about Hollywood, odds are Trumbo will be the big favorite come Oscar night, and it's a lock for a Best Picture nomination. A win would be poetic justice. Dalton Trumbo won two Academy Awards for screenwriting with Roman Holiday and The Brave One but because he was blacklisted during the 1950s Communist witch hunt, Trumbo's name didn't appear on many of his screenplays. When winners were announced on Oscar night, pseudonyms were used for the names of blacklisted writers, and most of Hollywood had no idea who the real scribes were.
It's a fact hundreds of thousands of Americans joined the Communist Party as the Great Depression ground on and fascism swept the globe in the mid-20th century. Trumbo was one of among them but because he refused to turn in fellow party members to authorities, he was sentenced to a federal prison in Kentucky. The scenes of Trumbo, known only as Prisoner No. 7551, being stripped naked and subjected to a cavity search because he joined a recognized American political party is particularly chilling.
Trumbo is platinum-standard entertainment, and Cranston is a wonder in the title role. After winning four Best Actor Emmy Awards for Breaking Bad and grabbing a 2014 Best Actor Tony Award for Broadway's All the Way, Cranston is now on his way to a Best Actor Academy Award. He is supported in Trumbo by wonderful performances from Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K. and the always great John Goodman.